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Locals respond to Grand Rapids City Council climate emergency resolution

A series of solar panels are seen in a row with green vegetation surrounding them. The sky is cloudy and hazy.
Chris Walker
A newly erected solar panel array is seen Wednesday, June 28, 2023, at the Itasca Clean Energy solar and battery storage facility in Grand Rapids.

In January 2022, the council passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. Simon Gretton and Bill Schnell are local residents determined to take small steps in the big picture of a changing climate.

GRAND RAPIDS — “Just because we can’t get to Step 100 tomorrow doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take Step One,” Simon Gretton said on the KAXE Morning Show.

Gretton and Bill Schnell are working toward facilitating conversations locally about the changing climate. As former members of the Itasca Clean Energy Task Force, they are starting to form an organized group to respond to the 2022 climate emergency resolution by the Grand Rapids City Council.

Local governments

There are now at least 21 cities in Minnesota that have created climate emergency resolutions. Great Plains Institute reports Minnesota is one of the fastest warming states in the country. The Minnesota Cities Climate Coalition formed in 2023 with a focus to influence state policy and regulations and help cities increase their goals towards a greener, less energy dependent future.

"Some of the greatest joys in life have been have come about with living with less."
Simon Gretton

Mayor Tasha Connelly said of Grand Rapids city government’s resolution, “Our changing climate and its effects are impossible to ignore,” she said, acknowledging the impact on local economies. “It’s extremely costly and it disrupts all the systems that we depend on, both natural and societal.”

Connelly cited the last three winters with historic and unprecedented snowfall to record-high warmth this year, with a lack of snow.

“Anything we can do to create climate-friendly policies that is in our local of control is prudent for our community.”

The City Council is planning to discuss forming a climate action or resilience advisory committee on Monday, Feb. 26.

Citizen involvement

With the city of Grand Rapids declaring a climate emergency, local residents like Schnell and Gretton say they want to keep the issue at the forefront. They note the city has already made efforts — like the new Yanmar arena with a more energy-efficient ice-making system — but more can still be done.

Schnell said, “So I think as infrastructure projects like this come up, it's an opportunity to upgrade, whether it's weatherization or the heating systems or what have you. There's a chance to make improvements incrementally as we go.”

Gretton and Schnell were also both involved with the solar project through Grand Rapids Public Utilities. Eight percent of the city’s energy now comes from the community solar array. In addition, the Grand Rapids Area Library heats with steam from the waste heat of UPM-Blandin paper mill and there is a stormwater management plan.

Schnell said, “I think about my kids and my grandkids. The news about climate change is routinely bad. But to save myself from despair, I feel like, I can do what I can, where I am.”

Gretton lives a very minimalist life, but he realizes it is not for everyone.

“For me, some of the greatest joys in life have been have come about with living with less. Now I'm certainly not going to point the finger at anyone else and say how they should live," he said. "Everyone's life is different. Everyone's got to make different choices.”

Both Gretton and Schnell encouraged people to contact those who represent them, whether locally or on a larger scale.

“I don't think they hear a lot from members of the community about this," Gretton said. "And it just stands to reason in a small community like this, if they start hearing from people, that's going to make a difference in terms of how they prioritize this stuff. That's how government can and should work.”

What do you think?

Are local governments addressing the changing climate enough? Email us your thoughts and examples from your community.

Listen to the full conversation from the KAXE Morning Show above, and watch this locally produced video by Theresa Alto about Gretton's minimalist lifestyle.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.